Chicken Lady Day

National Chicken lady day (US) came about to honour Dr. Marthenia “Tina” Dupree, a woman who worked for 12 years in the second largest chicken restaurant in the world (and, rather more integrally, helped to raise educational standards in the United States as Director of Community Relations and Training), but chicken ladies the world over can, and happily do, also take this day as an honorary hat tip to them.

There are a surprising amount of chicken ladies in Christchurch alone and they are not limited to the countryside – the resurgence of backyard chickens is on the rise and as a crazy chicken lady myself, I can vouch for the fact that once you start keeping chickens, you will never want to go back.

Chickens really are a champion pet – not only do they provide you with fresh eggs every morning, but they also show affection in their endearingly goofy, chicken way. Our girls like to follow us about as we do gardening, jump onto the windowsills and stare in at us curiously as we eat dinner, and try their luck at an indoors adventure or lap cuddle.

Cover of Chicken by Annie PottsThey are also not the scatter brains that people think – a study conducted by Australian University in 2015 found that chickens can count, while a report by neuroscientist Lori Marino has revealed chickens to be on a par with many other animals when it comes to self awareness and emotion. If you are wanting to learn more about the chicken, Annie Potts, associate professor and co-director of the New Zealand centre for human-animal studies at the University of Canterbury, has written a highly informative and entertaining book on the chicken from its origins as a jungle fowl to its current status as domesticated poultry. Along the way, Potts explodes the many misconceptions and myths surrounding this often revered and conversely often mistreated animal.

There are so many fantastic books on chicken keeping at the library, which will help chicken ladies as they begin their mama hen journey. A real stand out for me is the chicken chicks guide to backyard chickens, which gives helpful day to day advice on selecting a breed, your chicken routine, how to treat your ill chook, dietary requirements and much more. Our selection of books on backyard chicken keeping are really worth a look at whether you are new to chicken keeping or not.

The library also has an excellent selection of books which serve as a guide to the many chicken breeds out there- from the hard working to hybrids to the fancy show girls. Just a warning though- once you start with one type of heritage breed you won’t want to stop adding to your flock.

Wanting to go the extra mile and build your own coop? The library has some great books on the subject filled with ideas and even detailed plans of your new architectural wonder.

November fourth is the ideal day for chicken ladies the world over to celebrate their successes – and for aspiring chicken ladies to take the plunge and start up their new flock. As Kathy Mormino  (the chicken chick) says in her guide, the question isn’t why chickens but why not chickens?

Find out more

Kōrerorero mai – Join the conversation

Scratch and grab

Cover of Chicken Whisperer's Guide to To Keeping ChickensWhen I told various people we were thinking of getting a couple of hens they assured me we would love having them. My thoughts were more along the lines of: chooks = garden turned over and manured = eggs. Not ‘chooks – I’ll love having them in our life’.

The first few nights of the fat bottomed girls being in residence in the coop involved our flatmate climbing into the coop, showing the girls where the roosting bar was and physically lifting them into place. A new ramp was made, the f-b girls learnt to motor up it in no time and the flatmate went back to having a life.

Cover of Dirty ChickWe are quite besotted with the big footed raiders already, but due to space restraints we’ve stopped there. Otherwise there would be a couple of pigs grubbing around somewhere as per Antonia Murphy, author of Dirty Chick. She moved to New Zealand from the US, her pipe dream being to have a bit of land, some chickens etc. Things get a bit out of hand and ever so slightly stressful as her stock wander the neighbourhood amongst other things. Let’s say she takes to country life with gusto… I wouldn’t say she calmly bestrides the chaos, but she copes with great humour and I am quite envious of her menagerie.

Cover of The Chicken ChroniclesAlice Walker on the other hand had been raised with chickens for eggs and meat and finding herself living in Mexico realised they were missing from her life. Enter Gertrude Stein, Babe, Glorious, Rufus and Agnes of God, turning her thinking to the interdependence of humans and the chickens. The Chicken Chronicles is more a memoir of a journey.

Meanwhile at Chez Bishi, and I can’t say we weren’t warned, Camilla and Priscilla have been escaping their carefully established playground away from my vegetable gardens and been caught scratching and grabbing with the odd guilty glance over the shoulder and then running away when in danger of being put back in the playground. The kids would never have got away with what these two chicks manage.

Are you thinking of taking on some egg laying devices? Still sitting on the roost perhaps? Afraid you might find yourself clucking round the garden with small feathered friends in tow? Take the plunge: you’ll be in good company.

Chook lit

The children are adults and left the coop so we thought we’d fill it with chooks instead. I blame my gardening hero Janet Luke – she who has quail, rabbits, miniature goats, bees and ducks at her place. That’s eggs, meat, milk, honey and more eggs. Not sure if she has started killing the ducks yet, but she knocks off the bunnies regularly and is working on a nice fur blanket. She also has a standard size section as opposed to our large allotment sized property.

Cover of Backyard ChickensAfter the mad measuring of space available for potential chicky coop, I turned to library books on chicken coop design.

Alas, despite much considered research, this aspect has proven to be the downfall of Ma and Pa Bishi’s chicken farm. Neither of us thought it through until it was too late and the girls were proving that the darn thing was too high and the pitch of the roof too sharp and they really weren’t all that fussed about going to bed up there, never mind laying their eggs in the right place. Like good new parents we were concentrating on things like chicken selection, rearing, diseases, food etc. and “can I give up some of my vege garden and can we actually squeeze in a two-chook-coop?”

Unfortunately (or fortunately from his point of view) Pa Bishi was the builder and a very proud builder was he! This was his contribution to family history, an ‘A’ frame chicken coop. In the days before the girls moved in he was frequently to be found at the window staring admiringly at his handiwork. Alterations were obviously the answer and major ones at that, but male pride was on the line here. So how to broach this delicately? I don’t know, I’ve never done delicate approaches. But !#@!&#!! seems to have done the trick.

Cover of The Chicken Whisperer's Guide to Keeping ChickensTo date one ramp with grips and a ground level entry have been added and Priscilla the partying chook has shown the cowardly Camilla how to do things when it’s bedtime. Camilla is a bit slow and so far has been physically put on her roost each night. She doesn’t seem to mind and somehow they both get down each morning. I’m a nervous wreck from worrying about the girls and Pa Bishi’s feathers are ruffled, but he’s carried out the necessary alterations to Chez Chic.

Do you manage to successfully keep chickens? Wish you could? Like the concept but afraid to put it into practice? Check out the books above – they are really helpful. The girls are lovely and cluck away in our garden and one day I won’t worry about them at all.

Growing your own… caterpillars??!

When we bought a cheap tunnel house this year it wasn’t to grow green super worms with patterns but the best laid plans of this naive gardener…  I digress, first I went a bit mad and grew capsicums, aubergines, basil, cucumbers and flowers to attract bees, all from seed. By the time the raised beds were assembled and filled it was getting on a bit and the tomatoes had to be bought as plants.

Cover of Green Urban LivingThe basil and the toms took off. The basil plants were the size of small shrubs. I bought the pine nuts, stocked up the olive oil and parmesan and then never quite got round to pesto conversion. Got busy and ignored the tunnel house for about a week.

Imagine my horror when I next poked my head in: the basil was black and all but extinct, the tomatoes had been shredded and the peppers and aubergines looked like they too were on the menu.

But of what? Huge green caterpillars… with patterns. “Skin crawling” tomato eating hook  caterpillars, I think. I won’t give you the gory details of their dispatch, but I should have consulted some more gardening books on tunnel house growing first obviously. Lesson learned the hard way. Next year the aubergine plants go outside once sizable and putting out flowers and can get pollinated out there. No leaving the door open for all pregnant passersby.

If I had just consulted Green Urban Living by Janet Luke first I would have cut some phony white butterflies out of ice cream tub plastic and stuck them all over the garden and tunnel house. The expectant mums are territorial apparently, and would have naffed off somewhere else. Just one of the many clever tips for the urban gardener from this resourceful book. Growing food, keeping chickens, worm farming (not caterpillar) and beekeeping is  just some of knowledge passed on by one who has been there and is still wearing the t-shirt.

The mini orchard is coming along with the addition soon of a peach or nectarine, but not without consultation to the chapter on top fruit to grow in an urban garden and I hope next summer’s weather warrants the step by step instructions on the installation of a water barrel. This book is invaluable and I have borrowed it many times.

cover of Winter Harvest HandbookCurrently it’s  The Winter Harvest Handbook that I have out on loan. This promises “Year round vegetable production using Deep Organic techniques and unheated greenhouses”. I have high hopes of growing something other than future generations of the unmentionables, in an unheated tunnel house through our coldest months.

Do you grow your own? Want to but think you haven’t enough space? Another option is  Straw Bale Gardening. I’m considering having one on the go. Meantime more ‘do’ is needed and less talk, so it’s on with my wellies…

The character of chickens

Find "Chickens: a step-by-step guide to choosing and keeping hens" in BiblioCommonsThe Bennett sisters are chickens in the latest novel I have read, the wonderfully-titled Household guide to dying. Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia live in a dusty compound scratching around and making  noise that only Mrs Bennett could appreciate.

We are led to believe that they are companionable souls who make good pets. I am almost convinced … each chicken is lovingly sketched out with the attributes that their characters possess – Mary has a most ‘off-key’ cackle, whilst Lydia is constantly preening and vying for attention.

For those less inclined to make pets of them, the library has a vast array of literature on how to successfully house them, look after them, feed and breed ’em.

Having never appreciated hens as potential pets I was intrigued to find just how many work colleagues raise and name their hens. What are your favourite chicken names? Any entertaining chicken stories you want to share?

%d bloggers like this: